Grand Traverse Lighthouse, Michigan

Published in the February 2018 Issue March 2020 Feature

Guiding sailors and their vessels for 165 years, the Grand Traverse Light is a lighthouse in Michigan that is located at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, which separates Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay. It marks the Manitou passage, where Lake Michigan elides into Grand Traverse Bay.

On September 28, 1850, Congress appropriated $4,000 for a lighthouse on the northern tip of Leelanau Peninsula and construction on the 58.75 acres of public land began in late 1851. Shortly after being placed in service, Grand Traverse Lighthouse was found to be poorly built and poorly situated. Located near the eastern side of the tip of the peninsula, the lighthouse was useful for vessels entering and leaving Grand Traverse Bay, but wasn’t of much service to vessels on Lake Michigan. The original lighthouse was torn down and replaced in 1858 by a two-and-a-half-story dwelling. A fifth-order Fresnel lens was used in the new lighthouse until 1870, when a fourth-order Barbier and Finestre lens was installed.

The Lighthouse Board noted in its annual report for 1895 that a fog signal at Grand Traverse Lighthouse was “deemed necessary to navigation.” The substantial structure was completed in November 1899 on the shore roughly 140 feet southwest of the lighthouse. Duplicate 10-inch steam whistles were installed in the fog signal building and placed in operation on December 20, 1899. To provide a constant supply of water for the signal, a well was sunk 20 feet west of the building.

In 1933, an air diaphone, powered by air compressors driven by diesel engines, replaced the steam whistle. The most active year for the steam fog signal for which there are records was 1904, when it was in operation some 318 hours and consumed about 49 cords of wood.

The light was electrified in 1950, increasing its intensity to 15,000 candlepower. Keepers remained at Grand Traverse Lighthouse until 1972, when the lighthouse was replaced by an automated beacon mounted atop a skeletal tower.

The abandoned buildings slowly fell into disrepair until an organization, now known as Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum, was formed in 1984 with the goal of restoring the station and opening it to the public. Today, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse is on the State and National Historic Register. It is an active aid-to-navigation with a working fog horn used for demonstrations. The lighthouse and grounds have been lovingly restored to a museum showcasing the life of a lighthouse keeper and family in the 1920′s.


  • Like what you read?

    Want to know when we have important news, updates or interviews?

  • Join our newsletter today!

    Sign Up
You Might Also Be Interested In...

Send to your friends!